Unlike past years, I had not heard from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in the days the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was setting up for a 10-day engagement in Anaheim, where PETA has staged eye-opening demonstrations in the past. But then, hours before opening night at the Honda Center Friday, PETA emailed over the photograph above, which is said to show an elephant with a pressure sore on the side of its face in Ontario, the previous stop for "The Greatest Show on Earth."
Along with the photo came a letter Delcianna Winders, the PETA Foundation's deputy general counsel, sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) calling for an inspection of Ringling elephants immediately. The USDA is also urged to ensure elephants are receiving proper veterinary care and that no lame or injured animals are being forced to perform in violation of the Animal Welfare Act.
The animal protection nonprofit also surmises at the likely cause of the elephant's "injury:" being forced to lie down on hard surfaces.
But Stephen Payne, vice president of corporate communications for Ringling's owner Feld Entertainment, called the complaint "another absurd PETA attack on our veterinary care." He says he talked with a veterinarian who was with the circus in Ontario, "as opposed to Norfolk, Virginia, where PETA lives."
"Our vet told me the photo is of Sara and the area in question is a temporal gland," Payne continued. "There is no pressure sore there and the area is not raised. Our elephant caretakers sometimes put cream on the temporal gland areas to keep the skin there soft and to keep the elephants from getting sores."
As for the call for an inspection, Payne said all the circus elephants were examined in Ontario "and there were no problems."
"If PETA actually took the time to learn the truth about how we care for our elephants they could save a lot of time and perhaps use some of the vast resources to actually help animals in need instead of trying to score cheap political stunts and take up USDA's time with bogus complaints," Payne said.
As you can read in in Erin DeWitt's preview of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus: Legends, the extravaganza continues Wednesday through Sunday and, if it's anything like Friday night, PETA protesters will be outside Honda Center entrances passing out pamphlets and coloring books, urging families not to go inside and holding up signs the equate performing animals to slaves.
The PETA letter to the USDA follows on the next page …
July 25, 2014
Robert M. Gibbens, D.V.M.
Western Regional Director
Re: Urgent Request for Inspection of Apparently Wounded Elephant With Ringling Bros.
Dear Dr. Gibbens:
I am writing on behalf of my client, PETA, to request that the U.S. Department of Agriculture promptly inspect the Blue Unit of Feld Entertainment, Inc., dba "Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus" (license no. 52-C-0137; "Ringling") for apparent violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).
An individual has just contacted PETA to report observing an elephant with a swollen lump on the right side of her face outside a Ringling performance in Ontario, Calif., on July 22, 2014 (photo attached). According to a captive-elephant specialist with decades of experience, the injury appears to be a pressure wound. These wounds on captive elephants typically result when they have very little mobility and are forced to lie down on hard surfaces. The wound may also be indicative of an underlying illness, according to the expert, who explains that sick elephants sometimes develop them "because when they are sick and/or tired they lie down for longer periods of time."
This elephant appears to require veterinary care, in accordance with 9 C.F.R. § 2.40(b). Moreover, Ringling must not confine elephants on hard surfaces or force an apparently injured elephant to perform. See 9 C.F.R. § 2.131(b)(1) ("Handling of all animals shall be done as expeditiously and carefully as possible in a manner that does not cause trauma … behavioral stress, physical harm, or unnecessary discomfort"); id. § 2.131(d)(1) ("Animals shall be exhibited only for periods of time and under conditions consistent with their good health and well-being").
Please promptly inspect Ringling's Blue Unit and ensure that no injured or lame animal is forced to perform in violation of the AWA. Please also examine Ringling's veterinary records and ensure that the elephants are receiving adequate veterinary care, in accordance with 9 C.F.R. § 2.40(b)(2). Furthermore, I urge you to hold Ringling accountable for any and all AWA violations. Ringling's Blue Unit is scheduled to perform at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., through August 3.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter.
Very truly yours,
Delcianna Winders, Esq.
Deputy General Counsel, Captive Animal Law Enforcement